Decolonising Fashion Education with Athol Fugard's Boesman and Lena



Fashion, Jewellery & Textile Design


  • Boesman and Lena, born-free student experience, decolonising education, fashion education


At undergraduate level, research design and methodology was never a formalised part of the fashion education curriculum. Furthermore, fashion-related modules tend to comprise content predominantly of a Western nature: for example, the ‘history of fashion’ is often presented from a European perspective. In comparison to the vast, multi-disciplinary discourse relating to Western fashion, literature on African fashion is limited, which poses challenges for teaching, learning and curriculum transformation. The call for decolonisation has established a need to narrow this gap.

This paper responds to this call in a two-fold manner. Firstly, at third year level, research design and methodology was introduced as a formal semester module offering. Secondly, the authors integrated performance art into the first year theory of fashion and third year research methodology modules. The iconic South African play by Athol Fugard, Boesman and Lena (1969), was incorporated at first and third year undergraduate level because of its relevance to the South African political climate. This culminated in a collaborative fashion teaching and learning initiative with the institution’s Arts & Culture Centre. Including performance art, in particular Boesman and Lena, within fashion education created an opportunity to contextualise fashion in a localised manner and align with the call to decolonise education.

The purpose of this paper is two-fold. Firstly, the authors explore students’ views with respect to incorporating Boesman and Lena in first year fashion theory and third year research. Secondly, the authors explore how predominately ‘born-free’ students experienced the play from a personal perspective given its political underpinning.  To achieve these aims, the authors deployed a qualitative research approach. Semi-structured questionnaires were used to collect data and explore the views and experiences of first and third year fashion students. A content analysis method was applied to analyse and categorise the raw data.

The paper is structured such that it begins by first narrating and contextualising Boesman and Lena against the backdrop of the South African social and political climate. The paper then shifts toward contextualising the scope of the teaching and learning initiative for both first year theory of fashion and third year research. Finally, the authors discuss students’ views concerning the integration of Boesman and Lena within teaching and learning and their experiences as predominately ‘born-free’ students. The authors conclude by offering their reflections from an educational perspective regarding the teaching and learning initiative.

By including performance art within fashion education an opportunity was created to contextualise fashion in a relevant, localised context thus aligning with the call to decolonise education. As such, this paper contributes to the larger discourse on fashion education which, at times, is considered superficial and frivolous. However, teaching and learning initiatives such as this demonstrate that fashion education could indeed address complex issues such as decolonisation.




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